The Art of Memoir (1)

I am, in large measure, the selfsame prose I write. I unroll myself in sentences and paragraphs, I punctuate myself. In my arranging and rearranging of images I’m like a child using newspaper to dress up as a king, and in the way I create rhythm with a series of words I’m like a lunatic adorning my hair with dried flowers that are still alive in my dreams. And above all I’m calm, like a rag doll that has become conscious of itself and occasionally shakes its head to make the tiny bell on top of its pointed cap (a component part of the same head) produce a sound, the jingling life of a dead man, a feeble notice to Fate.

But how often, in the middle of this peaceful dissatisfaction, my conscious emotion is slowly filled with a feeling of emptiness and tedium for thinking this way! How often I feel, as if hearing a voice behind intermittent sounds, that I myself am the underlying bitterness of this life so alien to human life— a life in which nothing happens except in its self-awareness! How often, waking up for a moment from this exile that’s me, I get a glimpse of how much better it would be to be a complete nobody, the happy man who at least has his real bitterness, the contented man who feels fatigue instead of tedium, who suffers instead of imagining he suffers, who kills himself, yes, instead of watching himself die!

I’ve made myself into the character of a book, a life one reads. Whatever I feel is felt (against my will) so that I can write that I felt it. Whatever I think is promptly put into words, mixed with images that undo it, cast into rhythms that are something else altogether. From so much self-revising, I’ve destroyed myself. From so much self-thinking, I’m now my thoughts and not I. I plumbed myself and dropped the plumb; I spend my life wondering if I’m deep or not, with no remaining plumb except my gaze that shows me— blackly vivid in the mirror at the bottom of the well— my own face that observes me observing it.

(pp. 169-170)